On 28 December 1898, Father Chabrel, a Maronite monk from Lebanon, dies aged 78 in the Saint Maron Monastery.
Saint Maron is the best known Maronite convent in Lebanon. It bears the name of the founder of the Maronite religion, a Catholic religion of Syrian rites; its Head, the Archmandrite, has spiritual pre-eminence over all the other Lebanese convents and great moral prestige in the whole of Syria.
After his death, Father Chabrel’s body is placed in an underground tomb after a simple but moving ceremony.
From now on, his mortal remains will repose among the scattered bones of his brothers in religion. Destined to an even more rapid disappearance because the tomb is dripping with humidity.
But, right from the night following the burial, and during 45 other nights, an intermittent light escapes from the tomb. It is so bright that it lights up the monastery’s high cupola. This light can be seen from very far away, as is indicated in a police report at the time. After a few weeks of hesitation, the Archmandrite has the tomb opened in front of ten witnesses.
It is the morning of 15 April 1899.
When the heavy tombstone tips over, light engulfs a veritable bog… on top of which floats the perfectly intact body of Father Chabrel. There again, the skin has kept all its freshness and suppleness. Not one hair of his beard, not one hair on his head has fallen. But, even more stupefying, from this fresh and supple body which appears to be that of a sleeping man, fresh blood is flowing.
His clothes and linen are changed, he is placed back in a heavy coffin with a glass top. This coffin is placed in an oratory. The next day, and all the days which follow, blood, or at least a red liquid, seeps abundantly from the pores of his skin. So that the “cadaver’s” clothes have to be changed twice a week…
This incredible phenomenon continues for years.
In 1900, the body is exposed for six months on the church’s terrace to dry it in the sun. In vain. For twenty-seven years, a liquid composed of water and blood continues to seep from the cadaver.
On 24 July 1927, the body is placed in a coffin covered in zinc, along with a metal cylinder containing a complete medical synthesis of the phenomenon from its beginning. This report is signed by Professor Arnaud Jouffroy, from the Faculty of French Medicine in Beyrouth, and by Theophile Maroun, Professor of Pathological Anatomy at the same Faculty; (we must remember that, at this time, Lebanon is placed under French mandate, and that a High Commissioner exercises the authority of the French Republic there).
In 1952, there is a new exhumation.
To the astonishment of the medical, theological, scientific and police authorities, the body bears not the slightest trace of decomposition and still exudes a liquid composed of water and blood.
This prodigy suscitates considerable interest, and the authorities are led to expose the body from 7 to 25 August to public view. Then, it is put back into the tomb whose stones are carefully cemented.
We still don’t know the explanation of this double mystery: the suppleness and integrity of the body and, above all, the uninterrupted flow of that perspiration of blood.
In half a century, the cadaver had in fact produced more than twenty litres of that humour, while the fluids contained in the living human body does not excede five litres.
For a quarter of a century, several scholars studied this prodigy.
The case of Father Chabrel has notably been carefully studied in France by Doctor Larcher, the author of a fascinating book: Can Blood Vanquish Death? [Le Sang peut-il vaincre la mort?]
Such cases, historically repertoried and scientifically studied – or at least examined by well-balanced people worthy of trust – are fairly numerous.
Let us cite the story of Jean Le Vasseur, Seigneur de la Boutillerie, Mayeur de Lille and founder, in 1618, of the Chartreuse de Notre-Dame-des-Douleurs.
Brave Conventionnels took it upon themselves to profane his tomb in June 1793. Under the great sepulcral stone in the Notre-Dame-des-Douleurs Church, they found a lead coffin which they pulled apart, displaying an oak coffin inside it. They broke this with an axe, and the body of Jean Le Vasseur then appeared, perfectly conserved and looking exactly like the portrait which still decorates the fireplace of the monastery’s great hall. Seized with fear, one of the authors of this profanation threw himself on his knees, imploring divine pardon.
One hundred and forty-nine years after the death, the flesh has, there too, escaped all decomposition and when a hooligan undertakes to cut a finger from it, vermilion blood wells from the wound.
After two army surgeons wash it, change it and leave it seated on a chair, its head wearing a bonnet garnished with a tricoloured ribbon, another surgeon comes along. His name is Jean-Francois Degland and he practises an “autopsy” on the body. Dark red blood pours out in abundance, and all of the organs are recognised to be intact. Degland takes away the heart for a trophy, leaves the cadaver lying in the church, and announces in Lille that he has just opened the body of a saint.
Seventeen days later, the body is still in the same state of conservation, despite the very hot weather.
This prodigy suscitates corteges that the Revolutionaries will quash… by throwing the Venerable Le Vasseur’s remains into the common grave.
Are these three cases miracles which bear witness to the reality of divine existence? Perhaps… although Roseline de Villeneuve and Father Chabrel did not leave the memory of a nun and a monk who were surely destined to enrich the Golden Legend of the Saints. However, there are a certain number of cases of quite ordinary people, whose bodies have escaped what appears to be the destiny of all flesh in this life.
To be continued.